Sexual Decision-making of Immigrant East Indians: Risky or Not?


Reports of growing HIV/AIDS infection rates in India have brought increasing attention to the concept of sexuality in South Asian culture. There is a lack of awareness of the risks of sexual behavior due to the stigma associated with sexuality. As immigrants in the United States, young South Asians face cultural shock when it comes to sexuality and sexual behavior. Consequently, a tension exists between the belief systems of the country of origin and the individual’s belief system, influenced by American culture. The objective of this study is to understand the socio-cultural influences on individual decision-making regarding the sexual activity of a South Asian (specifically, Indian) immigrant population, using theories and methods from cognitive science. Twenty first- and second-generation, heterosexual, male and female Indians living in New York City were interviewed regarding their sexual activity. Results show that 55% of participants engaged in sexual activity, of which 22% were first-generation and 82% were second-generation. This pattern suggests a trend in sexual behavior that follows a well known “U-shaped” curve. The bottom of the curve represents the low risk behavior of first generation immigrants in their transition to an unfamiliar culture, where there is a high level of uncertainty and desire to maintain their original value system. Subsequent generations become assimilated to the new culture, and thus are more likely to adopt the sexual practices of this new culture. The transmission of beliefs from first to second generation is crucial with regard to decision-making governing (safe) sexual behavior for subsequent generations.